Today I went to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, which is basically a museum in Boston in honor of the late Senator Ted Kennedy to educate the public about the Senate and how it runs, and I got to say I rather enjoyed it. The museum itself stands next to Kennedy’s brother’s Presidential Library, the JFK Library, and it has it’s own replica of the Senate chamber (which is so cool).
When you walk in, they give you a button that reads “Senator-For-A-Day” and a tablet and send you to an “orientation,” which I thought was a little strange, but rather necessary. In your “orientation,” they give you a little background on the Senate (i.e. how it was formed) and they give you a tutorial on how to use your tablet within the exhibits. They always refer to you as “Senator,” which is kind of funny, and tell you to create a profile on your tablet. So you choose your political party and state you want to represent (I was Senator Spencer from Massachusetts, and thusly referred to myself as such for the rest of the day). As you go through the exhibits, you can use the tablet to vote in debates and act like a senator. While I learned a lot of this stuff in high school, I still found it enlightening and great for kids.
There was one exhibit where you have to vote on your tablet with the people around you to pass a made-up law, the Ice Cream Sundae Act (which I was in full support of). The issue of debate was which two topping should be required in the amendments (I’m not making this up). I lobbied hard for peanut butter cups, which made it through along with gummy bears to be voted on by Congress. Congress came back with raisins and orange slices to be the toppings (I know, ew. Who put’s raisins on ice cream?) So we, the Senate, had to vote again. Gummy bears seemed to take the majority, so I voted against the bill because it left out my precious peanut butter cups (I love peanut butter and chocolate), and I like to think it was my vote that made the bill fail.
The best part of this whole trip was the replica of the Senate. It was amazingly beautiful. You get to sit in the chairs and pretend you’re a senator, and they hire actors to play real senators from history. Then they have an issue that the Senate is currently debating (ours was whether the police should wear body cameras), and they open it up to all the “senators” in the room, so you can stand up and pretend you’re an elected official. Some people really got into it, and were like “Thank you Mr. Speaker” and went into these really formal speeches. I mean, one guy was actually quoting Roosevelt and had statistics ready, and I was just sitting there taking selfies for my new Facebook profile.
I did overhear one of the people working there say that they do programs for schools where they bring the kids into the replica Senate room and have a similar debate, but they get more in depth and form subcommittees for the kids to discuss further and actually vote like senators. I kind of wish this was around when I was in school…it would’ve been rather fun field trip…
I know I may have come off a little dorky to find this history and politics stuff fun and “cool,” but you really don’t need to be a nerd to enjoy it. I mean, I must admit I wasn’t thrilled about the idea going to it mostly because I didn’t know what to expect. I just figured it would be another boring museum where you’d go and stare at things in cases and read little plaques (which I slightly enjoy, but find tiring sometimes). But the EMK Institute had my attention the whole time, and I wouldn’t mind going back.